Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s remark yesterday at an event in Mumbai that “some former Prime Ministers” had “compromised” the country’s “deep assets”, which needs 20-30 years to build without naming the Prime Ministers, has kicked up a storm in the political circles of India. He refused to name the former Prime Ministers saying “many people know” them. Parrikar has done the right thing by not naming as had he named, the same people who are criticizing him now, would have said that he was defaming “great leaders” who are no more and hence can’t defend themselves. Also, Parrikar as defence Minister would not have been able to go into a public debate on the exact incidents exposing even the incompetency of the previous Govts in the interest of the nation. However, the reasons behind Parrikar’s statement is two fold – a) to tell the country that India’s defence, intelligence and external affairs policies suffered a lot of damage due to weak, incompetent and indecisive leadership, which some of the political parties still want to continue for their vote bank politics and b) to send a strong message to the adversaries that they can’t expect the same foolish policies to continue under the present leadership and hence better behave rationally.
After this controversy a number of politicians and ex bureaucrats have spoken in affirmative without naming or pin pointing the Ex-Prime Ministers and the events. I would like to throw some light on those Ex-Prime Ministers and the exact incidents/actions, which undermined India’s “deep assets” and long term security. However, let’s first understand, what is “deep assets”. Deep assets are top secret individuals / agents, intelligence sources and organizations deployed by the Security Agencies of a nation within or outside its geographic borders even deep inside the geography of nations perceived to be inimical to its interest. These are strategically important assets to a nation or where a country requires strategic information/influence. These individuals could also be within the establishment of another country. Lt Gen R K Sawhney, former Director General of Military Intelligence, says that deep assets are “an essential part of strategic planning and provide a nation the ability to have strategic intelligence… an essential element of statecraft”.
Now coming to the Prime Ministers and their specific actions, which compromised India’s “deep assets” in other words “national security” :-
1. Morarji Desai – During the tenure of Morarji Desai’s Prime Ministership from 1977 to 1979, Pakistan was in the process of acquiring Nuclear bomb making technology as a tit-for-tat reaction to India’s acquiring the same. The primary Pakistani fissile-material production facility is located at Kahuta (KRL), employing gas centrifuge enrichment technology to produce Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) for producing nuclear bomb. While French assistance to Pakistan for a plutonium reprocessing plant was well known, the uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta was a secret. After the French stopped helping Islamabad under pressure from the then US President Jimmy Carter’s administration, Pakistan was determined to keep the Kahuta plant a secret. RAW (Research & Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency) first confirmed Pakistan’s nuclear programs by analysing the hair samples snatched from the floor of barber shops near KRL, which showed that Pakistan had developed the ability to enrich uranium to weapons-grade quality. RAW agents knew of Kahuta Research Laboratories since at least early 1978. General Zia-ul-Haq, who overthrew Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a military coup in 1977 and arrested him, was anxious to avoid any fresh tensions in Pakistan’s relations with India till he was able to get rid of Bhutto and consolidate his power. So he kept in touch with Morarji Desai over phone in order to befriend him. Like many senior military officers of the Pakistan Army, Zia was a past master in the art of flattery. Often, he would ring up Morarji Desai under the pretext of consulting him on native medicine and urine therapy. Yes, urine therapy - Desai was famous for his championing of Urine Therapy. Nothing flattered Morarji more than advising General Zia on such petty issues but was foolish enough not to understand or suspect Zia’s intentions. In a unguarded moment one day, Morarji told General Zia that he was aware that Pakistan was clandestinely trying to develop a military nuclear capability – “General, I know what you are up to in Kahuta, RAW has got me all the details ” were the words. The Prime Minister's indiscretion exposed RAW and this “tip-off” made Pakistan aware that India knew what they were doing thus the mole inside Pakistan who passed the blue print to RAW was exposed & killed by Pakistani agencies. Thus Morarji Desai, the indiscreet and incompetent Prime Minister proved to be the unavoidable occupational hazard for India’s this premier intelligence agency and its profession.
2. Inder Kumar Gujral - I K Gujral became the third front nominated Prime Minister of India supported by Congress during 1997-98. After Zia’s cleanup of Indian intelligence network inside Pakistan in late 70s, RAW still had two covert groups - Counterintelligence Team-X (CIT-X) and Counterintelligence Team-J (CIT-J). The first was directed at destabilizing Pakistan by separating Baluchistan from it and the second at Sikh groups fighting for Khalistan during that time. Both these covert groups used the services of cross-border traffickers to ferry weapons and funds across the border. Also these covert actions were making ISI’s interference in Punjab prohibitively costly for Pakistan. But Gujral had a serious allergy towards RAW and the first thing he did after becoming Prime Minister was to suspend all such covert operations within Pakistan. Even the IB was asked to go slow on Pakistani agents operating in India. In approximately 11 months, he systematically erased the organisation’s footprints in Pakistan to promote his peace doctrine famously known as “Gujral Doctrine”. Acting on his belief of earning 'goodwill' of Pakistan, he gave details of RAW assets in Pakistan which led to physical elimination of RAW human assets through extra-judicial means by Pakistan's intelligence agencies. Since they were closed down in 1997, lack of such covert capabilities has left India even more vulnerable than before from ISI sponsored proxy war. For his such weak kneed and visionless policies, Gujral has remained a much-reviled figure within the intelligence community which accuses him of causing the destruction of intelligence network and infrastructure built up over the years.
3. Manmohan Singh – The UPA Govt in 2012 under Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh had constituted an enquiry to look into the activities of a super-secret military intelligence (MI) wing, the Technical Support Division (TSD), which had become operational in the year 2010 during the tenure of General VK Singh as army chief. This enquiry was ordered mainly to discredit Gen VK Singh, who took the Govt to court for his retirement age issue and later joined India Against Corruption (IAC) of Anna Hazare to fight against UPA Govt and eventually joined BJP. In December 2012, all the TSD officials were transferred and UPA Govt ordered disbanding of TSD. The committee reported that the TSD unit was engaged in conducting covet operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan and that secret Military Intelligence (MI) funds marked for ‘Operation Kashmir’ were funnelled to TSD. It was trailing the 26/11 mastermind and Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed. UPA Govt also did a complete review of the Military Intelligence (MI) and from then on MI was instructed to engage only in counter-intelligence and anti-militancy operations on border and barred from conducting covet operations. The MI was also asked to submit quarterly expenses statement to the MoD. Later on it was revealed by Retd Gen V K Singh that the decision to establish the controversial intelligence unit was taken by the former Chief, Gen. Deepak Kapoor, Singh’s immediate predecessor and that too after obtaining the required approval from the defence minister A K Antony. Gen. Singh also said that all the money allocated to the TSD was “supervised and accounted for” with the Army chief, defence secretary and director-general of military intelligence signing to approve it every quarter. It was functioning under the Director General of Military Intelligence (DGMI). The former Army Chief has gone to the extent of saying that had the TSD not been disbanded by the Govt, the beheading and other such incidents along the Line of Control would not have taken place. However, UPA Govt said that TSD’s work could have grave consequences for the credibility of India’s “peace initiatives” in the Kashmir Valley. According to Col (retd) NR Kurup, “when our Secret Service Fund is so secret that it is not even auditable by CAG, it is suicidal to expose its spending details in public. When we expose our secret service fund expenditure in a bid to fix Gen VK Singh, it is pathetic that we are not realising the damages it can inflict”. Many defence experts also said that it is important to know the designs of hostile elements in Pakistan – what are their plans, where are they likely to launch terrorist attacks, how are they preparing for border incursions and how are they indulging in the supply of illegal arms & forged currencies to the terrorists in India. Unfortunately, now the Indian Army is in a precarious position on gathering intelligence from Pakistan. If General V K Singh had revived some intelligence-gathering in that country and developed contacts across the LOC in a bid to infiltrate Hafiz Saeed’s inner circle, he was doing a great national service. Are intelligence-gathering and covert operations for national defence wrong? It seems that the UPA Govt. under Manmohan Singh in its zeal to fix Gen VK Singh for political reasons was not even bothered to compromise national integrity and security.
4. Manmohan Singh – In the year 2013, India came very close to eliminating Dawood Ibrahim, the country's most wanted terrorist, accused in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts and assisting ISI in organizing many other terrorist activities in India. A team of Indian commandos had infiltrated into Pakistan to hunt Dawood and were all set to execute the highly secret operation before they were instructed to not carry out the strike. Indian intelligence agencies have been trying to trace and nab or eliminate Dawood ever since he fled to Pakistan more than two decades ago. After many years of pain staking observations, intelligence gathering and meticulous preparation, an operation was planned in 2013 to eliminate Dawood. A group of nine highly trained commandos were selected by RAW for this operation. The members of this group named as “Super Boys” were given passports of Sudan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Dawood has been living in Karachi’s Clifton Road area in a well-guarded house named “White House” for years and every day he travels from his Clifton Road home to his office situated at House No. 37 in the Defence Housing Society in Karachi. This was the opportunity the 'Super Boys' chose for their covert operation. A dargah on the way was chosen as the spot for execution. On September 13, 2013, the 9 commandos took positions across the road. The commandos not only knew details of Dawood's car, his stoppage but his latest appearance. But minutes before the execution, a mysterious phone call was made by a senior India Govt official conveying instruction from the very top of India Govt. establishment to abort the plan. And with it India lost one of the best opportunity to eliminate a traitor who till then and afterwards has been responsible for scores of terrorist and anti-national acts on Indian soil.
The problem with the successive Indian Govts. (mostly Congress or the ragtag Third Front) flawed defence and intelligence policy was that it assumed that peace would flow from unilaterally dismantling India's defences. A gentleman in politics or a peaceable Prime Minister, but whose incapacity or unwillingness to signal strength - at home and in the conduct of diplomacy with our immediate adversarial neighbours - has cost India dear. When weak and incompetent politicians occupy the highest positions of power in the Govt., they endanger the life and future of a nation with their lack of vision, courage and decision making capability. This reminds me of the observation of the legendary General and former French President, Charles de Gaulle, that “politics is very important, so important that it cannot be left to the politicians alone”.